How to Choose the Right Rain Pants for Hiking, Fishing, and More

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By Bryan Rucker •  18 min read

Whether you are a hiker, backpacker, camper or just an outdoor explorer, there are bound to come times when the weather turns ugly. The mountains, in particular, are notorious for surprise afternoon storms; one minute the sun can be shining brightly, and the next can bring dark, ominous, gathering clouds that can rapidly produce torrential downfalls, hail and snow. Many outdoorsmen love the mountains for this unpredictability, but if you are going to be out in these elements—either accidentally or on purpose—you will need to possess the proper inclement weather gear and apparel, including an all-purpose pair of quality rain pants.

To help better prepare for you for your next big outdoor storm, below we will provide a general definition of rain pants and their potential purposes. We will also show you how to choose the right rain pants for you by listing the various things you should look for and consider when shopping for the best rain pants for the money.

Best Men’s Rain Pants for Hiking, Camping, and More (2018)

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What Are Rain Pants?

As the name suggests, rain pants are a type of lower body outdoor apparel designed to keep you warm and protected from the rain and other inclement weather conditions. Rain pants can either be worn alone, or on top of your regular hiking pants. These pants come in a variety of sizes, materials/fabrics and weights, and most have built-in coatings or membranes to help ensure they are 100 percent water proof.

When you set out to buy any type of clothing, you should always consider how, why and where those clothes will normally be worn. This will give you a better idea about what to look for when purchasing these clothing items. The same goes for rain pants. With these apparel items, you must consider what is most important to you (protection, comfort, etc), and then set out to buy a pair that offers all of those things you need.

Water proof rain pants are not meant to just keep you dry. They should also protect you against things like wind, sun, cold, etc. Some of the best rain pants—which, sadly, also tend to be some of the most expensive—will typically have all of the features listed below:

In the next section we will show you some of the things you should also consider and look for when shopping for a pair of rain pants.

What to Look For

When selecting the right pair of rain pants, there are many factors to consider, and several things you should always look for. Below we have listed several of these factors.

Material

Let’s face it. The primary purpose of your rain pants is to keep the water out and away from your legs and lower body. Hence, the most important characteristic of your rain pants is that they are waterproof. Waterproofing a fabric allows it to repel water, rather than soak it in, thus keeping your legs and the clothes you have underneath your rain pants warm and dry. We will explain more about waterproofing certain fabrics later in the section entitled “Waterproofing.”

In addition to needing a waterproof or water resistant fabric, you also want a material that can breathe, either through the fabric itself or from some added ventilation features added to the rain pants to help them breathe. Breathability is a major concern when buying rain pants. If you consider the manner in which rain pants are worn—typically over your hiking pants, shorts or other outdoor apparel—it is not too difficult to figure out that rain pants can quickly generate heat to the bottom half of your body. Not only does this make for a very uncomfortable experience, it can cause your lower body and legs to heavily perspire, severely dampening the pants or shorts underneath the rain pants. This defeats the original purpose of the rain pants: to keep you dry and protected from the wet elements. Pants soaked in perspiration can also lead to uncomfortable rashes in some cases—rashes that can make it painful to walk, hike or enjoy other fun outdoor activities.

When it comes to breathability, Gore-Tex is a new age material that is very breathable in nature. As such, many of today’s best selling rain pants are made from this—and similar types of—material. It’s important to remember that most major manufacturers of outdoor apparel have their own technologies and labs in which they test certain materials for things like water resistance and breathability. These tests lead to proprietary practices and methods in which these companies develop their own type of breathable fabric with which they make rain pants as well as a wide range of other apparel items.

Size

To say that it is important that you select the correct and proper size when choosing rain pants may seem to be a no-brainer. However, there are many things to consider when choosing the properly sized rain pants—factors that some people may neglect to take into account when shopping.

Rain pants are not typically sized like a regular pair of trousers. The latter is typically sized in terms of waist size and the length of the inseam, expressed in terms like 36 x 32, 30 x 30, etc. Instead, rain pants will typically bear sizes like small, medium, large, extra-large, XXL, etc, much like T-shirts, sweat pants and sweatshirts. So how do you know what size you wear in rain pants?

First of all, the rain pants you select will depend upon your physical size—this goes without saying. But apart from your physical size, there are many things you must consider. Some of these include:

Weight

We cannot talk about the size of the rain pants without talking about the weight. And when considering the weight of your rain pants, you must once again remember that these items may be designed to wear over your clothes, allowing you to put them on quickly. Because of this, it is important that you do not add too much extra weight—weight that can slow you down during a hike or force you to suffer a degree of discomfort.

Fortunately, most of the rain pants you will find are intentionally designed with lightweight fabrics and materials. This is quite impressive when you think of everything these pants are designed to do. Still other rain pants are made with VERY lightweight—almost featherweight—materials. Although this latter category tends to be quite a bit pricier than standard rain pants, it may be well worth the money if you are a regular hiker.

Easily Packed

As a hiker or outdoorsman, layering your clothes is a must—something to which you will have to grow accustomed. Those that have been hiking and backpacking for years already know this trick—the trick of bundling up to start the morning hike, and shedding clothes as the weather becomes warmer to ensure comfort. When it comes to rain pants, however, these are items you will only wear when the weather is very foul. They represent the last line of defense between you and the harsh elements outside. If hikers are carefully prepared, these rain events will not come very often. As such, your rain pants will spend most of their lifespan tucked away in your pack, only seeing the light of day when the skies turn gray and rainy.

With this in mind, remember that hikers and backpackers are often forced to carry with them a large amount of gear and supplies. A tent, sleeping bag, food, cooking supplies and clothes are just some of the “stuff’ you will find in a typical hiker’s pack. With all this gear, the backpack can quickly get heavy. Also, it can make it difficult to store any additional items in the pack without having to remove another important item to make room for them. Because of this, it is absolutely crucial that the rain pants you choose are both lightweight and easy to fold down into a tight little package, one that does not add too much extra weight and takes up very little room in the pack.

Fortunately, most of the most renowned outdoor apparel manufacturers have taken these points into account, and have thus designed their rain pants to be very lightweight and extremely compact and portable. Some of the cheaper lesser-known rain pants, however, may be bulky, making them not only difficult to carry, but also uncomfortable to wear. These are the rain pants you want to avoid at all costs.

Waterproofing

As we mentioned above, waterproofing is a process designed to help a fabric prevent the buildup of water rather than absorb it, and it is absolutely imperative when it comes to rain pants. Currently, there are two waterproofing technologies that represent the most “common methods for waterproofing”: laminates and coating.

In the laminate form of waterproofing, manufacturers add a type of state-of-the-art membrane to the rain pants that prevents any water from passing through them. However, this membrane does allow vapor to pass through it. This technique for waterproofing helps keep the water away from your body, while still allowing the rain pants to breath, thus preventing too much perspiration to form on your pants or skin.

The other form of waterproofing, known as coatings is akin to adding a thin layer of paint to the inside of the rain pants—an impenetrable substance (like a water sealant) that prevents the water from soaking into the clothes. Coated fabrics for waterproofing, however, does not offer the same level of breathability as laminated rain pants, a fact that can lead to some very uncomfortable hikes and unfortunate rashes. Naturally, coated waterproof fabrics tend to be substantially less expensive than those treated with laminates.

Fabric Layers

Rain pants are made with one of three waterproof fabric designs: two-layer rain pants, 2.5 layer rain pants and three-layer rain pants.

Seams

Although the seams on your waterproof rain pants may seem like the last possible item you would need to check, they are actually quite important. If you know only the slightest bit about sewing, you understand that the seam is where the manufacturers of rain pants bring the fabrics together—bring them together with a needle and thread. Although tiny in size and nature, these small needle marks can compromise the waterproof nature of your rain pants, allowing water to seep in and getting your clothes/legs underneath sopping wet over the course of a few hours.

To avoid this, be sure to look for rain pants that have a waterproof seam added to the pants. Waterproof seams are usually applied to the inside of the rain pants for aesthetic purposes, and do a great job at keeping you dry when the weather turns cold and rainy.

Convertibility

While some rain pants are designed to be worn over your clothes, keeping you ever prepared for any type of weather mishaps, others are designed to be worn alone. Some of the pants in this latter category have convertibility options—options that allow you to change the length of the pants in an effort to keep you more comfortable in warm weather. Rain pants that have these features can usually be converted in one of two ways: roll-up and zip off.

The type of convertibility you select is entirely a matter of preference. Some prefer the zip off style of pants because once the lower part of the legs has been removed there is no more fussing to be done with them. However, with zip off pants it is necessary to remove your pack and stow away the zipped off portion of the pants leg. The roll up style of pants are the choice of others, as they offer some quick, easy, and on-the-go relief from the heat while keeping the rain pants entirely intact.

Price

No list of rain pants factors would be complete without mentioning price. However, price should NEVER be the only factor you look for. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for,” and the same holds true for rain pants. Truth be told, price should be one of the last factors you should consider, coming only after you have considered what you specifically need in your next pair of rain pants. If this means having to pay a little more for a superior product, so be it. At least you can rest easy knowing you will not soon have to replace a defective product that did not offer the benefits it claimed.

Other Features

There are other rain pants features you may want to consider. A couple of these include:

Last Word

By following the guide above, selecting your next pair of quality rain pants should be a walk in the park.

Whether you are a regular hiker (or camper, fisherman, etc) or someone who enjoys the outdoors just a couple times a year, a good pair of rain pants is an important item to keep in your pack. Although you may rarely need them, it’s always good knowing they are stowed away for when you actually do, as there is nothing that can ruin a hiking trip faster than sopping wet clothes that might take forever to dry.

Bryan Rucker

Brian Rucker has spent his entire life participating in essentially all things wildlife. His concern grew astronomically during the previous tensions between the United States and other nations. He also has grown a substantial interest in survival and sustainability due to the current shape of the world over the years. He believes that preparation triumphs all things.